MLS Kick Off: Eastern Conference Standings Predictions for 2018
2017 MLS Eastern Conference Season Recap
This time last season, we wrote that Toronto FC would be hungry for their maiden MLS Cup title after coming so close in 2016. We stated that the Canadians would dominate the Eastern Conference and avenge their final loss, although we never expected to see dominance like they showed us in 2017 - a record number of points gained for an MLS season was of course followed up by an emphatic MLS Cup victory.
The big question will be whether or not FC can sustain their incredible form, which has been a feature since the arrival of marquee Sebastian Giovinco. They say it's hard to win a title and even harder to defend one. This season we will see what the Reds are truly capable of.
The other teams to make the playoffs from the Eastern Conference, in order of finishing positions, were New York City FC, Chicago Fire, Atlanta United, Columbus Crew and the New York Red Bulls. While the two New York teams are often expected to make the postseason, the surprise packets were Atlanta, who were playing in their inaugural season, and Chicago, who were coming off a last-placed 2016.
Meanwhile, teams like Montreal and Orlando promises so much at the beginning of their campaigns and ended up well down the list. Here's how the 2017 Eastern Conference wrapped up.
MLS Eastern Standings Predictions for 2018
Last Season - 4th Place
United performed incredibly well considering it was their first season in the big time, and were boosted by record crowds throughout their inaugural campaign. They were certainly not short of attacking ability, scoring 70 goals in their 34 matches, and in fact were second only to Toronto FC in terms of goals scored and fewest conceded.
The biggest talking point for 2018 so far is the signing of 18 year-old attacking midfielder Ezequiel Barco. The youngster arrived via a $15 million transfer fee, smashing the previous MLS record which is also held by Atlanta (they paid just over $9 million for his services last season. It will be great to see the pair line up in midfield together, and with plenty of talented players in that position there will be competition for places - exactly what is needed in a strong side.
Can Atlanta improve on their 2017 season? With the attacking talent on offer we believe they will again make the playoffs and are our early tip to finish the year with the best record in the Eastern Conference, just ahead of Toronto FC.
Our Prediction - 1st Place
Last Season - 3rd Place
Chicago were as much of a surprise in 2017 as Atlanta were. After three consecutive seasons of disappointment and two last-placed finishes, the Fire turned it around in 2017, finishing in an impressive third place. Their early season form was excellent, and at one stage it looked as though they were in the hunt for a top-two finish, however they came back to the pack in the second half of the year, and were bundled out in ruthless fashion by a more experienced Red Bulls side.
Chicago's big 2017 signing Bastian Schweinsteiger is back in 2018, and Nemanja Nikolic will also return to be the talisman up front. We don't think they are quite going to match their 2017 performance, although will win enough matches to secure a second consecutive playoff berth.
Our Prediction - 5th Place
Columbus Crew SC
Last Season - 5th Place
2017 was a fantastic year for the Crew, who seemed to get better and better as the year went on. The ongoing off-field dramas concerning the future of the club proved to be a tonic for the side, who came home on a wave of good form and support, and made it all the way to the Eastern Conference final, losing out to eventual Cup champions Toronto FC.
It's now mid February and no one seems to be able to tell you whether the Crew are remaining in Columbus. At this stage it's business as usual, although with uncertainty around it's going to take real effort to stay on track. The loss of Ola Kamara is certainly a blow given his exceptional form last season.
We think they are going to fall back outside the top six.
Our Prediction - 8th Place
Last Season - 11th Place
The team from the capital were below average to say the least in 2017. Just nine wins from their 34 matches and a negative goal difference of -29 led them to a last place finish, crashing back to Earth after three straight playoff appearances.
It looks as though United have completed a big turnover of players, moving veterans on and injecting youth into their side. The bulk of the midfield looks to have been retained, which will allow for some solidarity moving forward, but with so many alterations, a change in home venue and a daunting start to the season that sees them on the road in twelve of their first fourteen starts, it looks to be a season of transition for D.C.
For this reason, we're not tipping a quick turnaround. United will be lucky to avoid consecutive finishes at the bottom of the conference.
Our Prediction - 10th Place
Last Season - 9th Place
The Impact are another team that crashed in 2017. Few Canadians will ever forget the amazing tie between them and Toronto FC in the 2016 Eastern Conference final, eventually won by FC 7-5 on aggregate. A remarkable turnaround saw a side within touching distance of the MLS Cup final finish a lowly ninth the following season, costing manager Mauro Biello his job.
Remi Garde will take over in 2018, and it will be interesting to see how he performs considering his last job lasted just under five months. In charge of Aston Villa, Garde won just three of his 23 games, leading to his sacking and also the relegation of Villa from the English Premier League. While the side were already on the slide, his inability to turn things around doesn't fill us with too much confidence.
We may be made to eat our words, but we feel as though Montreal will not rebound in one season. We're predicting much of the same in 2018.
Our Prediction - 9th Place
New England Revolution
Last Season - 7th Place
The Revolution has begun in New England - Brad Friedel was named the new head at Gillette Stadium, and the former US Goalkeeper takes over despite very limited managerial experience. There's no question that he is one of the best ever players to come out of the United States, having made 426 appearances in the English Premier League and 544 overall.
His biggest challenge will be to address the inconsistency that crept into the Revolution's game in 2017. Every time the Massachusetts-based club got close to the playoff positions, they were pegged back by losses that derailed their campaign.
The Revolution have been a mid-table side for the last three years and despite the coaching change we expect this to continue. There haven't been too many changes to their roster, and we expect Friedel will only tweak things very slightly this season.
Our Prediction - 6th Place
New York City FC
Last Season - 2nd Place
New York have hit the ground running since their 2015 inception, and have finished 2nd in the last two consecutive seasons. They have been unable to break through in the playoffs, but can be relied upon to finish in the top half of the ladder, especially considering the talent at their disposal.
While Andrea Pirlo has retired, David Villa will play on and again be critical to the side's chances moving forward. There have been a few signings made so far, most notably former Austria Wien midfielder Ismael Tajouri, who will need to step up and cover the likes of Pirlo and Jack Harrison, who is on the way to Manchester City.
We think City may struggle to match their levels of output in 2018, although will still be strong and disciplined enough to finish in the playoff places. Perhaps they will have a better run at the MLS Cup from the elimination round.
Our Prediction - 4th Place
New York Red Bulls
Last Season - 6th Place
The New York Red Bulls have been one of the most consistent sides in the MLS. They have made the playoffs every year since 2010, finishing top of the Eastern Conference on four occasions and capturing the Supporters' Shield twice. Their 2017 season was sub-par by their lofty standards, yet they still managed to finish sixth and qualify for the Conference semi-finals.
The New Jersey club have made a number of changes to their roster over the offseason, although star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips will once again line up for the team. Jesse Marsch will be at the helm for the fourth consecutive season, which will help the team remain competitive and in the top half of the table.
We expect the Red Bulls to be in the postseason again in 2018, and believe they will climb to as high as third.
Our Prediction - 3rd Place
Orlando City SC
Last Season - 10th Place
Orlando started 2017 well and looked to be heading to the postseason for the first time in their short history, although they fell away in the back half of the year and ended up well below the playoff places, finishing a disappointing 18th on the overall MLS table and 10th in the Eastern Conference. The team from Florida are yet to enjoy a winning season in the top division after four years of dominance in the USL Pro Championship.
Things look to be on the up though, and Orlando have made their playoff aspirations clear by signing former Red Bulls enforcer Sacha Kljestan. The American national team midfielder will play alongside Canadian captain Will Johnson in the centre of the park, and their link up play will be critical to the team's overall success.
We certainly believe the only way is up for a side who finished close to the cellar door in 2017, although Orlando may just fall short of the playoffs.
Our Prediction - 7th Place
Last Season - 8th Place
Philadelphia started 2017 with four draws and four defeats, and never recovered as they struggled to an eighth-placed finish in the Eastern Conference. The Union's biggest issue was their away form - they only managed one win in their seventeen games on the road - and despite this being a common issue in the MLS, it's a statistic that all but sums up the Union's miserable year.
2018 doesn't look to hold too much salvation for Philly. There have been few notable changes to the roster that too often failed to threaten last season. We can only see a team that is taking steps backwards rather than forwards, and feel as though this side is the most likely candidate for last place.
Head coach Jim Curtin has not achieved anything with the club since arriving in 2014, and his 50-29-54 Win-Draw-Loss record isn't good enough. He may be the first MLS manager to depart this season.
Our Prediction - 11th Place
Last Season - 1st Place
Record-breaking, emphatic, sensational. Last season we ran out of superlatives to describe the Canadians, who ended a dominant 2017 season by finishing with the highest points tally in MLS regular season history, and went on to win their first ever MLS Cup. Greg Vanney has transferred a team once rated the 'worst in MLS history' to statistically one of the best. It's been incredible for fans north of the border.
Sebastian Giovinco has been at the centre of this remarkable run for the Reds, and the good news is that he will play on in 2018, alongside talisman Jozy Altidore. They have not really lost too much talent, and have brought in a couple of great pickups - most notably former Ajax, PSG and Cagliari defender Gregory van der Wiel.
Toronto FC will once again be hot favourites to win the MLS Cup, and will again come close to the Supporters' Shield. This year though, we expect to see the emergence of a new kid on the block in the form of Atlanta United, and we cannot wait to see these two up against each other in 2018. The record-breaking crowd in Atlanta on the final 2017 matchday was sensational.
Our Prediction - 2nd Place
What are your thoughts? Do you think your team will perform better than we have predicted? Join the conversation now on Facebook, where we discuss all things MLS.
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